We have a ‘Health & Wellbeing Specialist’ here at The Write Factor. He’s called Jacaranda Montague and he’s a Border Terrier. Every morning at 7.45 two little feet are placed firmly on my side of the bed and if that’s not enough to wake me up, a surreptitious lick on my nose will usually bring me to my senses. We do not need an alarm clock. He waits patiently whilst we have our breakfast but as soon as our mugs and plates are placed in the washing-up bowl, he begins his morning dance: a little ritual of feet stamping, teeth bearing and high-pitched whistling, which comes to a crescendo of yapping as one or the other of us dons our boots. It’s time for his morning constitutional walk and regardless of whether it’s raining, blowing a gale or calm and sunny as it was this morning, there’s no denying him. Off we go.
The same ritual happens at about 3.30 in the afternoon. Jack starts getting restless: he prances up and down the office with his frisbee, showing off his best ‘shake-and-kill’ technique, limbering-up for his second walk of the day. Sometimes, it’s an absolute annoyance to have to drop everything on his command and set off across the cliffs. Regardless of whether I’m in the middle of editing a complex chapter on Ivan The Terrible, or Rob’s working out how to add an extra section to the website, it’s time for a walk.
We have both remarked on many occasions however, that if it weren’t for Jack, we would get hardly any exercise – or at least, only in fair weather – and that’s why he’s been promoted to our Health & Wellbeing Specialist: because he really does keep us fitter than we would otherwise be. Jack is truly a creature of habit and what amazes me as much as anything about him (as well has his propensity to choose sticks that are twice his size and his ability to make us laugh out loud by his collection of silly walks) is the fact that he knows exactly – to the minute – what time it is! I mean, even when the clocks go back. What a dog.
When we’re out on our walks, we meet other creatures of habit too. My favourites are the surfers – the handsome young men and women – whose campervans you can hear a mile off, speeding through the country lanes to get to the cliff-top and checkout the surf. They screech to a halt and leg-it to the best vantage point by the Rocket House and look wistfully out to sea. Even when they know there’s absolutely no surf or it’s blown-out, they still come. When they spy a couple of their mates already paddling out to the back line, looking like seals from that distance, they jump back in the van and speed off down the hill, zipping up their wetsuits as they go. I love to see that mixture of anticipation and excitement and I’m also totally in awe of their intrepidness. That stretch of ocean is notoriously fickle.
Some habits aren’t quite as healthy as Jack’s and the surfers’, and many of us spend a lifetime trying to break them: drink less coffee, eat less cake, watch less TV… But habits have got a bit of a bad name, and actually, as I’ve found out during the coaching work that I’ve undertaken, the trick is not to break the habit – because after all, we enjoy it – but to transform the habitual action that we undertake without thinking. When my clients say they really want to write, but just don’t have time, we do a bit of self-enquiry and look at the habits they do have time for. It’s amazing when we really dive deeply into the motivations for our habitual activities that we often find we are prioritising those things that actually sabotage our aspirations. Once we’re aware of this we can work towards transforming our habits for good.
We are all creatures of habit and that’s no bad thing in itself, but through self-reflection and a bit of discipline, we can be a little more mindful and choose to focus more on those habits that support our goals. As I say to my clients, let’s just get into the habit of writing and see where that leads us.
Currently listening to: Spem In Alium composed by Thomas Tallis